Thursday, June 12, 2014

High Hopes for "Inside Out"

Disney-Pixar’s next film to debut is Inside Out, which will be released June 19, 2015.  Inside Out tells a story featuring the inner-workings of a teenage girl’s mind.  When I first heard about this film my first thought, apart from noting the similarities to Walt Disney World’s attraction Cranium Command, was that this had the potential to be something really unique and amazing.  Knowing Pixar’s, and specifically Pete Docter's, track record I have high hopes and expectations.  In addition, this is right up my alley and therefore near and dear to my heart as subject material.  I’m all for people learning something from films, whether overtly or indirectly.  If this can somehow enlighten people to some of the real struggles that adolescents face as they mature, and turn away a bit from the stereotypes and jokes then that would be a win in my book. 

This article was released recently and shed some light on the plot and characters, including emotions Fear, Sadness, Anger, Joy, and Disgust.  I love that Pete Docter based the character off of his daughter and the experiences he had of watching her grow up.  It shows he was curious about the changes she was going though and the emotions behind the scenes.  It would be much simpler to chalk it up to “raging hormones” or her just being a “typical teen,” as so many people do.  I’ve written about the adolescent stage in the past, but it’s worth repeating that it’s a rocky and unstable time.  I only hope the makers of the film take that to heart and don’t succumb to too many jokes at the expense of the stereotypes and misconceptions.  Docter cites the film as more poetic than scientific, but I hope that it doesn’t completely kick facts and truth to the curb.

I’m personally incredibly fascinated with interactions.  My goal in working with families is not to single anyone out, but to focus on the relationships and how they interact.  There is more in my notes about how people talk than what they talk about.  I help them improve those interactions and realize how much they impact each other.  This is another thing I’m looking forward to about the film.  I hope we get a front-row seat to not only the interactions between Riley and those around her, but between her emotions as well.  Viewing emotions having emotions toward each other will be something really great if they can pull it off.  That’s the kind of depth needed to depict the intensity that is adolescence  - when you can FEEL your feelings having feelings.  It’s an abstract idea and I appreciate the feat of translating that to the big screen.

In fact, the idea of separating different emotions so that they can easily be identified and navigated is nothing new to me.  I’ve had success with bright little kids that can conceptualize feelings like anger as something apart from them and something actually controllable.  When they are trained to recognize the “anger monster” sneaking up on them and to go find an adult when it happens, it gives them more power over their reactions instead of feeling like anger always leads to aggression.  Likewise, having a family realize they are all struggling with a mental illness such as depression rather than pointing fingers at one “depressed” person gives the system more power since they are working together. 

I bring up depression because one of the plot points of Inside Out includes Joy and Sadness disappearing from the story for a while.  I’m interested to see how Riley responds to the absence of both of these primary emotions and if depression plays any part in her storyline.  If so, it may be helpful and psycho-educational for audiences to see depression in this form – as an inability to feel certain emotions rather than a choice, as so often is perceived.  Riley’s experience may be less intense and more of a mood change but I’m still very curious as to the execution and implications of scenes such as these.

I’m excited to see if this idea latches on and becomes more tangible for the general public.  If kids begin to recognize and identify emotions like sadness or fear as characters from their new favorite movie, it makes the feelings more concrete and could make them easier to talk about with their parents.   The sad truth is that emotions are not something a lot of families feel comfortable talking about.  As a result, kids can grow up confused by them or wondering if it's even okay to feel certain ways.  The more acceptable it is to talk about it, the more parents can learn about those they care about most, and help them become more rounded adults.  

Other hard-to-picture aspects of the mind that are to be portrayed in Inside Out are imagination, abstract thought, dreams, and a “train of thought.”  These are all things that may be easier to conceptualize and lead to more healthy conversation because of a little helpful visual rendering.  Reading Docter’s analysis and acknowledgement of this gives me hope that he understands the benefits of externalization and knows that the film could be a gateway to introducing it in a fun way.  It sounds like he “gets it” and I’m anxious to hear more as the film begins to unfold and grow.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

My Disney Narrative

I've decided to write a personal piece for my blog, both for me and for anyone out there who may be interested in what makes me the Disney fan that I am.  One thing you learn when being part of the Disney community for so long is that no two fans are the same.  I think some people forget this sometimes, and project their own fandom and views upon others.  I myself am often guilty of this and have to take a step back sometimes and remind myself that not everyone views Disney through the same lens that I do.  My paradigm is formed through different experiences and interactions and has evolved over time into the identity I'll share with everyone today.  The meaning I place on Disney is my own, and there's a reason I value it as highly as I do.

I grew up enamored with Disney, like many children.  I sang the songs, dressed like the characters, and even my ASL name given to me by my deaf cousin was a modification of the sign for Disney.   At age 11 I visited a Disney park for the first time and subsequently fell in love with Disneyland.  Like most, I disassociated myself a bit from Disney as I grew older and became an adolescent and young adult.  However, I did not deny myself the joy in our yearly DLR trips with the high school band, however, or excitement when our marching show was Fantasmic! one year. 

I graduated high school, went to college, and unfortunately got lost and made some very terrible choices.  It was a strange part of my life I don’t look fondly upon now but, well, it happened and my whole world fell apart.  Afterwards, I tried to heal but my world was strangely different.  I had driven away the people closest to me and felt utterly alone.  I had lost any semblance of innocence I had and it seemed as though nothing could return me to the familiarity of “before.”  My past was shattered, my present was miserable, and my future unimaginable.

As I tried to move forward with my life, one day at a time while finishing my college degree, I stumbled upon a few websites that intrigued me.  I have to give credit to Yesterland, Gorillas Don't Blog, and Daveland Blog, for being the sites that stick out most in my mind for being that first hook back into the world of Disney.  After my incident I struggled to find a safe hobby that would take up my downtime and keep me out of trouble.  These sites sucked me in and any free time I had, I found myself checking back and branching out to other new photos and facts.  These sites were unique in that they revealed to me a whole new world – Disneyland of old. 

Here was a place completely and entirely different than what I had grown up knowing.  This Disneyland looked nothing like the park I knew, save for a few familiar landmarks.  Sleeping Beauty Castle was the backdrop to an alien Fantasyland with bright banners, a pirate ship, and a sky ride.  The Matterhorn towered over an incredible Tomorrowland of color, kinetic energy, and clean lines.  Frontierland was a huge span of themed desert, old Western town, and Native American culture, with my beloved Mark Twain still circling the Rivers of America. Adventureland was a sparse, freshly planted cluster of flora and fauna with an exotic twist, just over that simple bridge and under that entrance that I had walked under many times.  And the populations that occupied that happy place were no different.  Families in Sunday best, nuns in habits, and women in dresses and heels; inherently the same kinds of people visiting today but in fabulously different clothing.  It was almost a metaphor for the stage of life I was in; some things the same as I knew before, but so much was unfamiliar and unknown.  I fell head over heels into this new "yesterland" and have not recovered since.

I could immerse myself in these photos and descriptions and let the real world fall away.  I became obsessed with Walt’s creation, input, and ever-changing design of Disneyland.  I craved more knowledge and reached out to a medium I had never tried before, podcasts, so I could continue to learn while even doing mundane tasks such as cleaning or driving.  After my first taste of Disney podcasting I was floored that there were even more people that were interested in the same Disneyland history that I was.  Hearing a discussion out loud was different than reading or viewing images.  I found myself nodding my head in agreement or wishing I could chime in with further questions, which made me thirst for discussion with like-minded people.  I heard the podcast hosts request listeners to follow them on Twitter and that was what I did.  Little did I know I was opening the door to one of the most influential social circles and sources of knowledge and entertainment in my life thus far.

This whole time my exploration had been composed of bits upon bits of new knowledge and new ways to get it, but Twitter was something very different and I immediately recognized that.  There were so many people like me, and also so many that were not like me.  I discovered the great divide in our fandom, and, what I later decided was a unique community.  I wasn’t sure what to make of it and over time watched many of the people I followed engage in conflict, both passive-aggressive (hello subtweeting!) and direct.  At the beginning I was merely following and didn’t have the guts to join in any of the interesting discussions I found there.  Over time I gained a few followers but still had no real place in the Twitter-sphere yet.  I wanted so badly to contribute something to the conversation but had no earthly idea how. 

And then I found myself facing yet another struggle in my life.  While nothing compared to my earlier situation, I found myself living temporarily with my parents while planning a wedding and working the worst job I ever had.  “First world problems,” I know, but I was pretty stressed out, and social isolation set in as I desperately wanted to connect with this new world I knew to be where I belonged. 

One night I spontaneously started a brand new Disney Twitter account.  A month later I threw together my first blog post.  I loved social science and I loved Disney and it finally clicked when my two favorite worlds came together.   I became bolder at interacting with the Twitter community and made some valuable connections with people I interact with to this day. 

However, I found myself still confused with the rift between fans.  People would complain to me about the “negativity,” and I’d nod and agree before realizing that they were talking about the criticism of current Disney endeavors, which was what I was doing!  I had been bewitched by Disneyland history, not current Disney.  I longed for the images, ideas, and innovation of that time and enjoyed engaging in intelligent conversation with others who agreed and could offer new knowledge, as well as those who did not agree but respected my opinions.  Others didn’t care for that strategy, however, and instead of going elsewhere for discussion it became a competition, an endless disagreement, and a rivalry.

As life moved on and continued to throw challenge after challenge at me, I grew thankful that I had identified a solid way to cope.  Home alone while my husband takes care of a recovering family member at the hospital? Hop on Twitter and I’m not alone anymore.  Draining day of class and studying in grad school?  Head over to my list of trusty vintage Disneyland photo blogs and disappear from the real world for a while.  Frustrated with being in a new city away from friends and family when I need them?  Find something I’m passionate about, write a blog post, and wait for people to let me know I’m not alone in my thoughts.  I had found my identity and it was a part of my past, my present, and I could see a bright future ahead.

So why am I telling you all of this?  One of the most resonating things I’ve learned about therapy is the importance of creating meaning.  It helps to recognize the narrative that is your life and to identify specific events and experiences that have shaped your story and led you to where you are.  There’s also the beautiful concept of shared meaning, which is the bare bones culture that a family or community can fall back upon even when there’s disagreement on other things.  Our shared meaning is a love for Disney - whether that’s a love for the history or present, the films or the parks, we all have that going for us. 

Finally getting my story out of my head was cathartic and sharing it with others only heightens awareness as a whole.  I’m at a place where I understand why I think the way I do and why my view of Disney is unique to me.  Most importantly, I’m fine with the fact that others don’t think that way, but wish desperately that they were able to accept that too.  But because some can’t I’m no longer afraid to eliminate people from my feeds who are bringing me down in the process.  Those who complain about the “negativity” that I consider thoughtful discourse and a form of escapism seem as miserable to me as I must seem to them.  And that’s okay.  

Now you know why my view can sometimes be on the critical side.  I’d love if everyone could respect each other’s views as reflections of their life’s narrative, but until then I don’t deserve to be told what to think and how to feel.  For example, those who are excited and positive about what Disney is doing currently may see the parks as a place they can go where they belong and don’t have to feel pressured to fit into the rest of society.  It’s not my place to tell them to have a more discerning eye and hold Disney to the standards of their past.  My place in the Disney community is defined by my life experiences and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  It’s a journey that got me through the toughest moments of my life, it holds immeasurable value, and nobody can take that away from me.